OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of an Elvis Presley fan, writes Robin Mead. If that means my musical tastes stopped developing half a century ago then so be it; just put me down as an incurable old rocker. And, if someone is going to ape either the mannerisms or the music of old swivelhips, I do like them to get it right.
So the attractions of the shapely Russian songstress who, every night, entertained my cruising companions and me with her own, stilted, version of the Elvis hit song “Teddy Bear” soon began to wear thin. Beautiful she might be, but she never got the tune quite right. Worse, she fondly believed the song to be called “Terry Beer”.
Bands from the emerging nations of Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Far East are popular choices among cruise lines searching for a “resident orchestra”. Presumably, they don’t cost a lot of money; but then they don’t always know a lot of tunes either. That’s why we got “Terry Beer” on a nightly basis.
I did my best. I approached the singer one evening, and pleaded with her to make it “Teddy Bear”. She got it right just once, but had forgotten by the next day. Meanwhile, a band of jolly Filipinas who made up the resident orchestra on my next cruise were so full of fun that one evening they forgot to turn up for showtime altogether. An angry cruise director sent for them, and gave them a sharp ticking off before they finally went on stage. They were a bit nonplussed. “But we are here now,” reasoned the drummer, with a heart-warming smile.
If shipboard entertainment has been a bit hit and miss over the years, all that is changing now. The reason: higher fares. Rising fuel costs have forced up cruise prices to the point where customers are starting to take notice, so the cruise companies – anxious to keep this booming sector of the travel industry on its upward curve – have started to offer customers what they like to call “added value”.
So now you get special golf packages, which include visits to overseas courses, or cruises which feature tribute bands or major variety stars, or even opportunities to join in cooking demonstrations with top TV chefs. But surely, I hear you murmur, the golf courses and the big name cabaret stars and the TV cooks were there before. And I’m afraid you are right: they were.
Cunard, P and O, and Saga have provided the best entertainment when I’ve been travelling, and I’m pleased to see that Swan Hellenic took the trouble to survey passengers to see what kind of music they preferred (81% said “classical”, and Swan Hellenic now book their entertainers accordingly).
Anyway, shipboard entertainment is not the main reason to go cruising. A fascinating survey last year showed that British cruise passengers set sail largely because they want to see unique wildlife (especially whales and dolphins), or natural phenomena like the Northern Lights. Where their ship is cruising too is pretty important, too: top choice for a port of call is the wonderful, watery, city of Venice.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and cruise lines have thousands of cabins to fill on all those lovely new ships which have come into service in recent years. So a flick through the brochures will reveal indulgences like an emphasis on shipboard art (Royal Caribbean), or even the provision of “Zen areas” – whatever they are (MSC). Perks like a chauffeur-driven car to your port of departure can be tempting, as can a growing selection of “on board” credit schemes.
There’s a trend towards more “all inclusive” deals, too. But beware: these can more than double average cruise prices (you can still find a perfectly acceptable cruise for £100 per night).
Surely lower fares are preferable to any of these.
On the excursions front, deep sea cruises could learn from the river cruise companies, whose city tours are often admirable. That’s one up on the cruise line which has recently introduced “evenings in”, where passengers stay in their cabin, enjoy room service dining, and watch telly.
Such a scheme smacks of desperation to me. Especially given the paucity of TV channels, and the often dreadful reception, on most cruise ships that I’ve sailed on.
I’d rather be out and about on the ship – even if it does mean listening to another rendering of “Terry Beer”.